Version tested: PC
Very long, easy right?
One of Pro Rally 2001's biggest selling points is that it is at the pinnacle of realism. Having watched the game in early form at ECTS last year, we thought they might actually have a point, but having played the thing we now firmly contest their claims. Ho-hum. The whole game is basically an exercise in tedium. Everything is vaguely acceptable and very little stands out. For starters, the Driving School that sets out to teach you how to play. It's a poor copy of the same thing from Gran Turismo, and despite the years' gap in between, it's much less fun. The tasks set are far too difficult, with very little leeway. Hitting the time limits dead on is about as close to overcoming them as you get. Not content with that, if you take even the tiniest nick of damage you fail, despite the fact that there is no mention of this in the manual or within the game. When you eventually fail, there's no incentive to start again, and thanks to the stodgy interface it isn't exactly an intuitive process anyway. Several menus have to drone past before you can get back into the action. It actually takes less effort to quit the game and uninstall it than to get back into the action. Um.
Even when the Driving School is behind you (you really won't miss it), things don't get much better. As you will have learnt, the handling and turning of the cars don't really fit the bill either. Your ability to turn seems to depend on the direction the wind is blowing that day, often proving easier when you are shifting gear. If you launch yourself into a corner, despite your co-driver's warning of its size and your pre-selection of gear, getting round it is another matter entirely. The game seems permanently set on shunting you offroad. Turning at high speeds under throttle is more or less impossible (perhaps as a simulation of understeer at high speeds), but if you coast along at high speeds you can turn on a sixpence. Hardly realistic. The roads are incredibly narrow too, so on the average hairpin (of which there is usually at least one per track), you are very likely to come a cropper. The handling of the vehicle itself is tough to get the hang of also. If you drift even marginally offroad at a slight turn, you usually stop dead due to the incredibly unforgiving scenic obstacles. Walls frequently have little snags embedded in them to help stop you dead too, and don't catch your wing mirrors! That'll bring you to a halt as well. The most depressing aspect of the turning problem is that you can actually overcome it somewhat by opting for the overhead view. This renders the game a poor Micro Machines V3 clone, but it's the only reasonable way to repeatedly get round tight bends, and admittedly the only way I passed Driving School.
Out and About
Another point to count against the game is the way its levels are structured. Your co-driver points out every corner as you arrive at it, and if you look closely, you discover that every corner neatly fits one of his categories, be it easy, hard or in between. He also mentions hairpins a few times a stage to boot. The good thing about this from your perspective is that if he says it's an "easy" turn, you know that it's about 15 degrees, and if it's a hard turn, it's a right-angle. There is little or no variation. The sad thing is of course that such uniformity is about as realistic as Sun in February around here. Colin McRae is probably quaking in his boots. The track design itself is tight and often unforgiving, but on the whole fairly varied. The different surfaces of course make no difference - be it stone or snow, you'll still take each corner as it comes and in precisely the same manner. The huge selection of cars available make no difference at all, they all handle in the same way with minor discrepancies. Those are likely just bugs anyway, and hardly noticeable when you're bouncing from side to side of a supposedly crumbly stone bridge.
As for the rest of the game, there is very little worthy of mention in the positive category. I wouldn't call the graphics or sound effects bad, just nothing new. I suppose the repetitive whine of your engine sounds rather tinny, but when a game is this mundane nit-picking isn't going to help anyone. The biggest problem from my perspective is that I have played more or less every Rally game released this Winter, and everything else does what Pro Rally 2001 does, only better. The handling in Colin McRae 2.0 is much more impressive, the track design in Screamer 4x4 is a cut above this and even 4x4 Evolution can boast some more interesting vehicles and track motifs. PR2K1's biggest problem is that not only is it less than a sum of its parts, it's frustrating as well. I mean, I've played it for long hours and tried hard to enjoy it, but whenever I quit the game, I feel better for it! The bad handling, lack of realism, awfully unfair Driving School system and most of the other aspects just meld together into something I would rather not be playing in my spare time. Two-player split-screen consists of two huddled gamers hammering the keyboard in a vain attempt to accelerate after hitting yet another concealed brick and stopping dead. Madness.
So in conclusion, what is there to commend about Pro Rally 2001? Very little indeed is the unfortunate answer. The different Championship modes are all roughly the same, the teaching element is frustrating and badly planned, the handling and road-manners of the cars are dreadful, and there are plenty of others games available which do more of the same, only better. A shame, because it looked good last year.
5 / 10